Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Campaign to End the R-Word

Today is an action day to end the use of the word "retarded" (and variations thereof) in all contexts. There seems to be two camps on this subject. Those that don't see the harm, and those that do. I fall into the latter camp.

And today, on this action day, I want to lay out the reasons WHY.

First, a little background. Ava has Angelman Syndrome. You likely know that. You also may know that part of Angelman Syndrome is a cognitive or intellectual disability. Although I am always quick to point out that, without adequate communication, we are not able to measure just how smart she is! But 50 years ago, Ava would have been classified as "mentally retarded." More background: Ava has been called "retarded" by another child before. And one more important piece of information: Ava can hear. Ava can understand. We take the "least dangerous approach" with her. Meaning we assume she understands everything any other typical 4 year old does. Because we honestly do not know.

Those that use the R-Word defend their use by saying that they don't call intellectually disabled people that word. They use it describing situations or as a way to express someone's ignorance. I understand that. I have also been told that I shouldn't be so sensitive to that word, and that they don't consider Ava to be "retarded." I also understand that. Our friends and family, those that know Ava, may not think of her in reference to that word, but many in the world do. And it is important understand that in order to understand my point of view. 

My reason for not using the "R-Word", and for not allowing it to be used around my daughter, is a very simple one. If someone uses that word around Ava, regardless of subject matter, it is in a negative context. So Ava hears and associates that word with negativity. It is a bad word, a hateful word, a naughty word. Then she is at the park and another child (who has been taught the word) calls her "retarded" because she is different. And suddenly, my child- my beautiful, smart, funny, loving, happy, sassy, amazing child- associates herself with a word that is negative, bad, hateful, and naughty.

That is why I want to end the word. In all uses. In all contexts.

I know it is a common word. And if Ava isn't around, and it isn't in our home, I don't say anything to people who use it. As my mother constantly reminds me, I am not the world's police and I cannot right the wrongs of everyone. But I certainly do say something- politely but assertively- when Ava is there to hear. The bottom line is that it is about respect. Respect for a girl, and in fact a whole segment of the population, that is full of love, honesty, charity, and hope. A group of people so willing to forgive, a group of people who work harder and struggle more and yet smile more and love more. What is there not to respect?! Do not fear those who are different. Do not judge or make fun. Embrace and love and know that we are ALL made in HIS image.

So I issue you a challenge. The next time you hear yourself saying that word. Or thinking that word. STOP. And picture this sweet girl. And then ask yourself- "is that word really the appropriate word?"